RIO DE JANEIRO — Diana Taurasi and the U.S. women’s basketball brushed aside yet another opponent at the Rio Games after being challenged for the first time in the Olympics, albeit for just one half.
While Japan played the Americans tough in the first half, the end result was another blowout victory for the U.S., although the 110-64 dismantling of the Japanese team may have come at a cost.
Point guard Sue Bird didn’t play the second half after injuring her right knee in the second quarter. She told The Associated Press after the game that she felt a “pop.”
“Nothing really happened,” Bird said of the play. “I just felt the pop and anytime you feel that, it’s a little alarming. So going just to have to get it evaluated afterwards and see what’s up. Truth I really have nothing to tell you. It happened so fast like. Is it possible I stepped on her shoe or she stepped on mine? I don’t really remember but yeah it felt funny.”
U.S. coach Geno Auriemma said that they would evaluate the injury.
“I really don’t know. I said we’ll know” on Wednesday, Auriemma said. “There’s no way of knowing anything right now. I’m sure Sue’s bummed out about it as you can imagine. Let’s just wait and see.”
Coming into the quarterfinals, every U.S. game was virtually over at the half. Not this one.
Japan, sticking to its up-tempo style of basketball, shooting 3-pointers and pushing the pace, trailed just 56-46 at halftime. But the Americans, which won its five group games by an average of 40.8 points, had just too much offensive firepower and eclipsed the 100-point mark for the fifth time in six games, outscoring Japan 54-18 in the second half.
“That is a really good team, they make you work,” Taurasi said. “They have a system of playing that I’m really familiar with. … We knew it would be a tough game. They put a lot of pressure on you and we felt it in the first half.”
The Americans, who will play the winner of France-Canada in the semifinals Thursday, have played nearly flawless basketball in Rio and their performances apparently have made an impression on Japan.
The Japanese players posed for a team picture with the U.S. after the blowout — the second straight opponent to get a postgame memento with the Americans. China took a photo after their game against the Americans in pool play. It’s reminiscent of how opponents reacted to the Dream Team at the 1992 Barcelona Games.
“I don’t even know. It’s the second time now in a row,” said Bird. “Yeah I don’t know what happened.”
In the first 20 minutes against Japan, the Americans were challenged as the Asian nation wasn’t afraid to try and run with them. The Japanese quickly got the ball up and down the court and hit open jumpers, taking it right at the No. 1 ranked team in the world.
Just as the Americans seemed to be pulling away in the second quarter, opening up a double-digit lead, Japan responded with a 10-2 run.
And they looked impressive doing it.
Ramu Tokashiki — who plays for the WNBA’s Seattle Storm — shook free from her defender for an easy backdoor layup that got Japan within 48-46 and capped the burst. It brought a loud contingent of Japanese fans to their feet.
That’s as close as they would get. The U.S. (6-0) scored the final eight points of the half with the last four coming from Seimone Augustus, which brought cheers from Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony and several other members of the U.S. men’s basketball team in attendance.
Japan scored the first four points of the third quarter, but then Moore started a 10-0 run with five straight points. Brittney Griner’s layup capped the spurt and the U.S. never looked back.
The Americans continued their torrid scoring pace and are still above the 102.4 mark set by the 1996 team that started the run of five gold medals and 47 consecutive Olympic wins.
Tokashiki scored 14 points to lead Japan (3-3), which was playing its first Olympics since 2004. The three victories equaled the most ever for the team in the Games, which it will host in 2020.
While this game provided the first real test for the Americans, their road to a sixth consecutive gold medal got a little bit easier when Australia lost to Serbia 73-71 early Tuesday. The Aussies had been the only team to hold a halftime lead over the U.S. at the Olympics in the past 16 years when they led by four in the semifinal game in the 2012 London Games. The U.S. won that game by 13. Serbia plays Spain in Thursday’s other semifinal.
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